Friday, July 2, 2010

Poverty (Pt. 4): Heuristic Structure of Suburban Mission

Thus far, we’ve talked about...

1) how those of use with privilege and resources elevate the forgiveness-granting, existential aspect of Christ’s “good news to the poor” to the only aspect of the good news that matters. We also saw that when our identity is in the old kingdom of the world, the other aspects of the Good News are not just uninteresting to us, but threatening to who we understand ourselves to be.

2) how charity can get out of the way for Charity/Caritas/Agape through the exercise of hospitality towards our brothers and sisters in poverty. Moreover, how we need to get beside those brothers and sisters in order to get beside Jesus.

3) but we wondered if maybe our vision for poverty wasn't a little dull, causing us to only see the big, obvious kinds of impoverishment in big, obvious places like the city and the country. We wondered about poverty in suburbia. And we found that poverty is the thing linking these places and the people who dwell in them. A poverty some can hide with privilege and resources and some cannot.

So, I’m a philosophy student. Er, student of philosophy? Either way, I end up reading books by really, really smart dead guys. One of those soul-crushingly smart dead guys is the Jesuit philosopher and theologian Bernard Lonergan. A big part of Lonergan’s philosophy is that human beings learn stuff by inquiring about things with the use of “heuristics.” Heuristic is just a fancy word for “anticipation.” We anticipate that there is something to be understood, so we ask about it. In algebra, we demonstrate this anticipation with letters like “X” and “N.”

“Let X equal…”

Well, I want to play a similar game with this problem of how we preach the Good News, in all its rich, pulpy fullness to the “poor” in Suburbia. Except, instead of “X” or “N,” we’re going to use the words “Mission to Suburbia.”

“Let a Mission to Suburbia equal…”

Then, like in algebra, we’ll list some “terms” or characteristics and their relationship to one another. The “equation” will then be kind of like what Lonergan called an “heuristic structure.” Whatever other concrete details there might be, a mission to suburbia would consist of and in those characteristics in relation. This way, if we stumble onto or into one, we’ll know it when we see it.

So, the first figure in the equation would have to be the rediscovery of poverty, in two senses:

- First, we need to rediscover the proximity that material poverty of resources and social poverty of privilege has to our suburban setting. We tend to tuck it away, in neighboring communities or out of the way neighborhoods. In Walnut Creek, CA, the town I’ll be headed to in a few months to start out an experiment in Suburban Mission, the low-income housing is quite literally invisible from the main thoroughfares, obscured by shopping centers and municipal landscaping. Poverty can remain the story of people and places that are far away and other to us only through selective ignorance. We acculturate ourselves not to see the poverty of resources and privilege right under our noses.

(As a complete aside, allow me to allude to a contentious political issue: Egypt was built on the backs of immigrants who fled a famine in their home-land for the opportunities and security afforded by the wealth of an empire, only to end up indentured laborers under increasingly exploitative conditions. Egypt’s unwillingness to be compassionate towards their foreign neighbors ultimately resulted in destruction, death and suffering [to say nothing of political unrest!] for their citizens.)

- Second, we privileged and resourced suburban Christians, need to rediscover and embrace our personal, fundamental poverty. Resources and privilege cover up that poverty, but do not solve it, because the only thing that can solve it is the grace and redemption of a God that overcomes our moral impotence. We’re not up to the task demanded by a moral universe and we suffer over and over and over again the effects of our sin upon ourselves, on others and on creation. We need each other and we need God. Continuing to live in stubborn ignorance of that need will mean that we will continue to mete out destruction on creation and ourselves. Every advance and development will ultimately be purchased with a payday loan that we are guaranteed to default on.

So, the equation looks like this so far: “a Mission to Suburbia requires a rediscovery of poverty…”

Now, it’s easy for that rediscovery to be mis-understood as an unmasking of the self-deception of other wealthy suburbanites. Let me be clear that, though I think there is a place for clever, prophetic proclamation in societies that need a little self-examination, I’m really talking about those of us who feel called to preach the good news to the suburban poor. We need to make this rediscovery for, of and in ourselves.

But then we should share with other resource and privilege rich suburbanites what it is we’ve found in ourselves.

In fact, that’s the next part of the equation:

Reveal (or “confess,” if you like) to one another and the community the poverty we discover in ourselves. And that doesn’t just mean passing nods to our sense of inadequacy or vague statements that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Rather, when one reveals poverty to others, and they really feel that poverty as poverty, there’s an implicit “Help ME!” included. The authentic revelation of poverty to your brothers and sisters is an invitation to an act of service, an act of care. It’s an invitation into a community of Caritas in the richest theological sense.

But if no one has any liabilities that need tending or, having them, if none are willing to uncover them, then no invitations can be received and accepted. Or rejected, of course. Which is the grand danger, is it not? That having revealed our true dependence, we come to confirm the sense that we are alone in this. That the world demands we be self-sufficient. That poverty and suffering and lost-ness is just all there is, lurking beneath all the distractions. So, its best to stay distracted. To stay self-enclosed.

And we’re on to the next, slightly paradoxical part of the equation: the requirement that we have courage, faith and hope.

So, wait, let’s review:

“Suburban Mission requires that we rediscover our poverty, revealing it amongst ourselves and others with courage, faith and hope…”

Why courage, faith and hope?

Courage because the reality is that if you reveal your poverty and let escape the slightest whimper of “Help Me?”, it’s likely that you will be failed. You might be ignored. You might be scolded. You might be helped once and then abandoned. You might be blamed for your situation. A million horrible things could happen in your vulnerable state and it will be necessary to be brave in the face of those possibilities.

And, indeed, it will also require faith. Faith that if you do take this risk, that in some impossible way, it will be met half-way. Or more than half-way. Faith that there are people out there as willing and able to help as you are in need of their care and support. Faith that God will transform the hearts and intentions and actions of all the other, hurting, scared people out there for whom your mess threatens to unmask their mess. People for whom your vulnerability shines light on their vulnerability.

And most of all, you will need hope, because shit will go wrong, and probably not just once. You’ll need the hope that, even though everything has gone wrong so far, by some impossible chance or grace, everything works together for the good. Hope that there’s no mess so messy that God’s redemption can swirl it into a grand, vast column of support for some serious next level shit.

So, here it is, the equation that I think helps us anticipate the structure of our mission to suburbia:

Suburban Mission requires we a) rediscover our poverty, b) revealing it amongst ourselves and others c)with courage, faith and hope d) so that our weakness might be made into strength.

And that last part is the whole point. And the whole paradox.

In a place where independence, strength, and wealth are white-washed over tombs of broken, lost, empty lives, to reach deep down and show everyone your dependence, your weakness and your poverty requires immense courage and strength. You have to be incredibly together in order to survive the exposure of how un-together you really are. You have to be very grown up to show the faith of a child.

And so, the mission to suburbia implies a call for a new standard of success, of grown-up-ness. Our Heuristic Structure of a Mission to Suburbia needs people who are strong enough to step out into weakness, showing others it can be done.

That’s the prophetic hope of all of this: That others will look at us and say, “They’re nothing special. Shit, they’re kind of a mess. And yet they’re doing something extraordinary…”

“…Maybe I can too.”

So, in abbreviated form, here's our equation. Our anticipation.

Suburban Mission = (Rediscovered Poverty + Confession of Poverty) X (Courage + Faith + Hope) = Weakness = Strength

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

(An Interruption) Dr. West re: The Cross

As we creep up on July 4th, something for us American Christians to remember about empire, the Cross and the socio-political context of Jesus' sacrificial act.

What I hope will be the final part of the Poverty series I'm aiming to have up before the weekend.

Also, if you aren't familiar with the beautiful woman sitting across from Dr. West, that's Toni Morrison. You'll want to Google her.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Poverty (Pt. 3)

In my last entry, a couple of weeks ago, I ended with some questions about how we should traverse an uncertain path. If we are unwilling to slink back into the old kingdom, the old empire and yet don’t feel a calling to the specifically urban or rural concentrations of the poor, how do we go forward? Certainly those urban and rural communities are under-served and I’m so grateful for those Christians (and others!) who follow a calling into the city or the country to dwell with and learn from those in poverty. That is a genuine kind of moral heroism. And yet, the starkness of that poverty, I’m convinced, can become a kind of catch-all for our felt-sense of responsibility to the least of these. And maybe that’s not so bad for the forgotten corners of the empire. Maybe that status draws those of us with more compassion in our hearts than intricate theories and clearly discerned vocations in our heads.

But what about those places, so far from being forgotten by the empire, which are occupied most fiercely by the old kingdom. In our culture, in our country, I think that means “Suburbia.”

And here I’ll stop being so abstract for a moment and tell you a little about my own sense of “calling.” I grew up in suburbia. Californian, automobile-centric suburbia with row after row of ranch-style homes (or, increasingly, McMansions) packed onto quarter and eighth acre lots. I went to a suburban church, nestled into a suburban neighborhood, populated by blue-collar suburban folks and white-collar suburban folks and ultra-super-white-collar gated-community suburban folks. When I say I think that my family probably landed somewhere near the middle of middle class, I hope that isn’t just oblivious self-centeredness talking. You know, the way people with obvious political biases usually call themselves “centrists” or “moderates”? In any case, we were far from the richest and far from the poorest. It never felt like we were in need and it never felt like we had much extra.

I grew up with two parents with disabilities, but for all of their bodily unhealthy, we were a fairly emotionally healthy family. We fought sometimes, but we also apologized often. We laughed and argued and played together. Dad worked weird hours and Mom worked three days a week. There was a kind and supportive baby sitter. There was a church that supported us in times of crisis and nurtured us in between crises. We were a family that couldn’t hide its needs and those needs were almost always met. Meals showed up on our doorstep. We got rides from neighborhood friends. There was always an ear to hear our frustrations or confusions or struggles. But we were stable enough to appreciate that help and give back to our community family in times and places.

As I got older, I began to realize that other families had as hard a time as us. Some of those families were rich and other families were not so rich. As I began to say in high school, “Everyone gets their own special brand of ‘fucked up.’” And “fucked up” didn’t seem to have any particular correlation to a family’s tax bracket. Death and suffering and divorce and eating disorders and suicide refused to respect the accomplishments, earning potentials or best laid plans of anyone. Nothing, it seems, holds those things at bay for any of us. At best, money could keep ‘set backs’ from becoming ‘death spirals’ and virtue and good friends could help you survive the messes and carry on with some lessons learned or enriched relationships.

But that’s best-case scenario.

And all the resources and privilege have this awkward side effect: they don’t keep us from experiencing the fundamental poverty of human life, but they do let us hide that poverty from others. Sometimes, even from ourselves.

“I made $100,000 this year. I can’t be a junky.”

“My kid got into an Ivy League university. They must be doing fine.”

“Our refrigerator is full of food and our mortgage is getting paid every month. What could I be anxious or depressed about?”

In hiding our poverty from ourselves, when we suffer that poverty, there is little hope of relief. The whole experience seems even more mysterious than suffering in general is already.

In hiding our poverty from one another, we of course preclude ourselves from their help that might bring some relief or comfort. Furthermore, we also deprive others of the opportunity to be of service in offering that relief and comfort. As Christians, I think we believe being of service is a blessing. A chance to be like Jesus.

I’ll say that again: When we hide our poverty behind resources and privilege, we deprive others of a chance to be of service and that deprives them of a blessing.

In other words, we have a responsibility to our communities to be honest about our impoverishment. Covering it up with resources and privilege hurts everybody.

So, wait… What exactly am I saying about Suburban Christians and Suburban poverty?

I believe that privileged, suburban Christians don’t need to leave the privilege of suburbia to find poverty. We have our own personal poverty to discover through confession and humility. We have our socio-economic poverty to discover by bringing it out from behind the scenes of suburban life. Which is not to say that privileged, suburban Christians shouldn’t get a well rounded-education in poverty. No, it’s imperative that we come to know all kinds of poverty, both that which is closest (if not most transparent) to us, and the more foreign, unsettling kinds; urban, rural, and international poverty. But let’s not pretend that “the poor” are other than ourselves. Let’s not pretend that there is “us” and then there are “the poor.” Let’s not pretend that we’ve corralled poverty in Cabrini Green or the Reservations of the Dakotas.

Poverty is what we all share in common. Just some of us are blessed because we can’t delude ourselves about our poverty.

(Next time: The Heuristic Structure of Good News to Suburban Poor)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Poverty (Pt. 2)

In the previous post, I tried to tease out the way in which, if Jesus’ work culminates in preaching good news to the poor, those of us who aren’t poor (or to put it more broadly are privileged) may have a hard time hearing the news of the Kingdom of God as good news. More than that, those of us rich folks who DO hear the Good News as good news have a tendency to pick the part of the Kingdom that touches our forgiveness-poverty and declare it the only part that counts.

Now, there are some Christians I respect a lot who’ve taken this conundrum and said, “Welp, I grew up only hearing a part of the Kingdom as good news. If I’m going to learn how to hear all of the Good News as good news, I’m gonna have to get to know some poor people and let them teach me how to hear this thing correctly. To hear it fully.” So, they moved to be with poor people and took a student’s posture. A disciple’s posture. Because if Jesus was called “teacher” and identified himself with the “least of these” (Matthew 25), then we are called to be disciples of the poor. Jesus doesn’t call us to rescue the poor. He doesn’t call us to fix the poor. He doesn’t call us to ‘eradicate poverty’. He calls us to encounter himself by sharing time and meals and resources with the poor. Invite the outcasts in. Visit the exiled and imprisoned. Go be with the poor, so that we may be with Jesus.

Giving them something to eat and to drink and to wear isn’t about “charity,” it’s about hospitality. If you’re hanging out with someone and they’re thirsty or hungry or naked, it’s not just awkward and rude to neglect (or even to refuse) to share your food or water or clothes. It’s downright WRONG.

However, if you don’t actually spend any time with poor folks, then dropping off canned goods or old sweaters isn’t about hospitality anymore.

Then it’s just plain old charity.

Which is good. Sharing your extras, even with strangers, is good.

But it’s harder to think of it as essential. Making sure your companions have water and food and clothes is essential. Dropping off your extras is… well, extra. If things are tight and there’s not much extra, you can cut it out or just forget all together. I mean, we know we shouldn’t but it’s sure a lot easier.

But if your brother or sister is right there next to you saying, “shit dude, I’m hungry!,” well, then it’s a little harder for it to slip your mind.

This is, of course, very different from how other privileged Christians (who I ALSO respect a lot… partly because I’m one of them) have addressed the conundrum of trying to hear the Good News as good news without having much poverty in their(/our) lives. We grab that forgiveness part and then we carry as much of it as we can into the old kingdom, all mustard-seed grainy and slipping through our hands. And then, when we get lots of extras because of our privilege, we do our darnedest to remember to share the excess with the poor. We call this “charity.”

Charity, you might know, is the English version of the word “Caritas” in Latin. Which is itself a Latin version of “Agape” in Greek, which if you’ve heard a sermon in the last 10 years, you may have heard invoked. Agape, to vastly over simplify, is an intense, divine, personal sort of love.

Charity, the way we tend to think of it, usually conjures none of the same adjectives as Agape. At best, it’s a generous sharing of our abundance with people we’ve likely not met and in support of folks who’ve committed their lives to the kind of work we don’t really have time for. We support organizations that support and aid the un- and under-privileged. At worst, it becomes a vehicle for paternalism and a way of making our responsibility to the “least of these” as unobtrusive as possible. Also, very often the extras that we share through charity are unintentionally the product of economies that create the poverty we’re trying to help. We clean out our storage space and give clothes made in sweatshops to the Salvation Army. We donate 10% of our income earned at a company which pays its CEO more than 40x what they pay their lowest paid employee.

One step forward, two steps back.

Doesn’t that seem like a pretty thin, pale version of Agape? Of Caritas? Isn’t our “charity” not all that much like Charity?

Again, I’m not saying stop giving to charities. More, I’m saying maybe don’t be so satisfied that giving to charities is the same thing as Charity. And more than that, I think we might need to reevaluate the assumption that “charity” is the “good news to the poor” that Jesus was talking about.

See Also: This Shane Claiborne Essay

But what do we do if we aren’t feeling that mysterious, deep down call to the usual kind of poor people? What if we don’t feel like God is calling us to the urban, food-desert, minimum wage poor? Nor the rural, farm-subsidies, drought stricken poor?

What if you feel some weird kind of call to the poor who don’t know they’re poor?

And what exactly are you supposed to tell them?

And how are they going to hear it?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Poverty (Pt. 1)

A word about poverty (or “pigs don’t wear necklaces”).

Jesus says in Luke 4 and again in Luke 7 that his work culminates in “preaching the good news to the poor.” “The Spirit of the Lord” anointed him for it. Like his ancestor David, Jesus is called up out of this Judean backwater Bethlehem and anointed. Out of a blue-collar rural family from a blue-collar rural town, Jesus (like David) is going to be hailed King. Called “Lord.” And all of his buddies, these guys who start getting called “disciples” once Jesus starts getting called “teacher,” are blue-collar guys. Fishermen. Disgruntled workers-turned-radicals called “zealots.” Half-criminal government shills that collected taxes. All the characters that populate a society, an economy oppressed and depressed by Imperial occupation. All of the rough, unlovely types by whom civilized people are made uncomfortable. The sorts of lower-middle class folks that politicians condescend to and pander to.

Jesus comes up from this neighborhood and doesn’t go make nice with the arbiters of power and culture and religion. He doesn’t seek their approval. He doesn’t apply for their certification programs. He doesn’t wait for their permission. There’s some Kingdom shit to do. And once it’s underway, news of it will get to the people for whom it will matter. Poor people. People for whom it will be a blessing. For those who have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

On the other hand, if you inaugurate a new Kingdom, people with a job in the old kingdom start to get worried they’ll be S.O.L.

People with no job to speak of couldn’t be happier.

For people who are poor, the Kingdom of God is good news. Jesus tells his students not to cast their pearls before swine, because what use do pigs have for pearls? Don’t bring the Kindgom to people who don’t have any use for a new Kingdom. It might be news to them, but it won’t be Good News.

For poor people, it'll be good news. That other kind of people? well, maybe not so much.

Our Evangelical emphasis on the transcendent meaning of the crucifixion (atonement theories, etc) often obscures the very immanent reasons the official defenders of religion and government had for killing this Jesus guy. They had a good racket and this new Kingdom, in which the poor get preference, was going to fuck the whole thing up. See: JD’s entry on “loss aversion.”

For those of us who are rich and still think that the Kingdom of God sounds like pretty good news, this puts us in a bit of an awkward spot. We don’t have the kind of lack, the kind of poverty that makes a new Kingdom with freedom and provision and healing and work to be done seem like living water to quench our thirst. We’ve got freedom through victory. We’ve got provision through labor. We’ve got healing through technology. We’ve got work to do, because there’s an empire to build.

But we do have guilt.

Sometimes we aren’t even sure what it is we feel guilty about, except for the sneaking suspicion that, even if we worked for our wealth, for our position, for our privilege, our comfort, we still don’t deserve it. Or maybe we know exactly what it is we feel guilty about and no matter how much we accomplish or how much we acquire, its never enough to make us “O.K.” again. Nothing ever seems to fix what we've done. Or maybe we find guilt, not with ourselves, but everywhere and in everyone else.

So, we have a poverty of forgiveness. A poverty of grace for ourselves and/or others.

And this is serious business. That’s a kind of poverty you can die from. (See also: Alcoholism; Depression; Gluttony; Eating Disorders; Promiscuity; Domestic, Civic, National Violence.)

So, for the sinner with a poverty of forgiveness, the forgiveness part of the Kingdom is pretty good news.

But once that poverty is addressed through faith in the blood of a lamb that washes away the sin of the world and delivers us from death…

What now? What else do we need, after we’ve plucked this particular bit of goodness from the news Jesus was anointed to preach to the poor? Can we just return to our unending wars to defend peace? Return to our stock portfolios? To our health care legislation? To our role in a society, an economy that soaked us in sin to begin with?

Now that we’ve been washed clean, can we jump back in the sewer and try really hard to avoid taking on the stink of shit ourselves?

When you read that story about the rich young ruler that Jesus asks to give up his wealth and position, how fast do you move to wave away the chance that challenge might apply to you?

More than that, when the poor start proclaiming to each other the other good stuff about this Kingdom news, do we start to defend the old kingdom in which we have freedom and provision and health and work to do? When the political, the economic, the somatic and the social aspects of the Kingdom News start to get preached from the poor to the poor, how quick are we to declare the existential part, the part that matters to us, the only part that is essential?

Isn’t it funny that the only part the privileged need is the only part that really counts?

(Up next: Charity vs. Caritas)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Sources of Inspiration

Tiny House Blog is one of the places I've been getting inspiration about how to live differently than my education trained me. Check it out if you get a chance. If nothing else, the weekly "tiny house in a landscape" photo posts are worth the space in your Google Reader. Tho, this article on frugality is doing it for me right now.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Personal Note on Conversion

I'm in the middle of preparing for the final, oral comprehensive examination for my MA in Philosophy at Boston College. I took a little break to try to get out what I've been thinking about as I close up this academic chapter of my life and put on hold what, by the original plan, should have been the next. Here are those (somewhat rambling) thoughts. This is a little more of a personal note and I hope that's alright.

In August, I move back to California from Boston. In Boston, I live alone in an apartment that costs just an incredible amount every month. I work part time for good money and I’ll be finishing an MA in Philosophy in a few days. I’ve been accepted to the PHD program at SIU Carbondale (a ways outside St. Louis) in Philosophy, though I wasn’t immediately offered any funding. My employment in Boston ends in mid-August and (as of writing this) I don’t have a job lined up in the Bay Area.

The plan was to get into a PHD program and become a philosophy professor at the sort of small, Christians liberal arts university we affectionately call “East Jesus NoWhere College.” That plan, for the moment, is on hold.

Why put that plan on hold? It’s not the most secure plan in the world. Philosophy, like the arts and so many of the humanities, is sidelined in many universities and jobs aren’t so easy to come by. And a PHD is like a union card for the academy.

Well, because I have a kind of religious devotion to the way things are done around here. I tithe to a religion with elaborate temples in Washington, DC. The priests and clerics of that religion want me perpetually taking on debt (education loans, home loans, car loans) and then I’ll be forced into labor in order to pay those debts and a portion of those earnings will go to the temple’s coffers. To make that labor (so peculiarly chosen and coerced at once…) tolerable, I’m offered distractions and spectacles for a small portion of the funds left over once my bills are paid. If I have children, I’ll work as hard as I can so that they can get into the religious schools and be taught the piety I learned as a boy. I’ll work hard and take on even more debt so that my child can earn the right and ability to take on even more debt than I was able. After all, I could take on more than my parents and them more than their parents.

This is the eschatology of my civic religion. That every generation will be able to borrow more than the last. Wealth is measured in how much you can afford to borrow. Security is being able to pay your debts.

Now, of course, that’s not the way I’d told the story to myself all these years. I had become like a Christian who takes the sacraments and attends masses without understanding why, but knowing only that if they do, somehow they are in God’s good graces. In other respects, I went about what were the more explicit desires of my heart: to pursue questions of meaning and value, so that I could help shape young people to be formed better than I had the chance to be. I want to be an educator.

And yet, I’ve come to realize that, if I’m ruthless with myself, I must recognize that my religious devotion is to the American Dream and not to the Kingdom of God. Certainly, I explicitly claim Christianity as my religion. And intellectually, I take what I think are probably ecclesiological (church inspired) positions on moral and political issues. Dig a little deeper, and you find the pagan-ness of my heart. I’ve got such selfishness and lust of all kinds lurking down there. But even then, I think one can dig deeper.

Deeper into how habitual action reveals what we REALLY value and what we really believe will bring us happiness, what will bring us Abundant Life. For me, like I’ve said before, its my fancy-ass cell phone. It’s also fancy coffee and my single-speed bike. My expensive haircut and my tattoos. My quirky-fashionable clothes.

How do I know this? Because when I’m bored, I whip out my cell phone. Because when I meet someone new, I hope they ask about my shoes or t-shirt. Because I spend most of my disposable income at the local cafĂ©. Because those are the things I talk about. Because those are the things I’d be miserable if I was deprived of them. Because I plot what kind of car I should buy to complete my image and lifestyle.

Because those are the things on which I spend my precious, finite, gifted time on this beautiful planet.

So, I need to put my “way things are done around” here plans on hold for a while and change religions all the way down. Not just change my mind, or even my heart, but change my habits, my way. Otherwise, all I’ll have to offer my students is the surface play of words and ideas that are easily dismissed when push comes to shove.

After all, as Brother Milch put it, “as much as he’s her misery, the pimp's a whore’s familiar; and the sudden strange or violent draws her to him.”

Why now? Why, when my future is so much on the line at this perilous age? Why not get secure and then “better myself?”

Because “I’m no longer the boy I once was and I’m not yet the man I’ll be.”

Because, like Aristotle says, wealth and security are only the necessary external goods on which possible happiness rests. After all, those who suffer under tyrants will tell you that when you’re starving, you can’t think about bettering your circumstances. You think about food. About how hungry you are. And yet, if we say of wealth and security, “that is all I need and I’ll be happy,” we will wonder why we’re never brought to our fullest selves. To the men and women that we’ll be. We’ll suffer and never understand.

Or worse, we’ll never suffer and still not understand. After all, Brother Kierkegaard reminds us that the soul in despair that knows it is in despair is better off than the soul that is ignorant of its own despair.

Because the despairing soul that knows its state can seek salvation. The other doesn’t know it doesn’t know.

(As a side note, perhaps we should be careful calling good fortune by the name of God’s Blessing.)

The deal is, we’re dying.

And everyday I’m dying to this world, either into a grave from which there is no return, or, with Christ, into a grave from which we return more than we were. I can either be dragged to the former, all the while vainly hoping that my some magic I’ll be spared the universal fate of humans. And yet our very name, “Human,” means burial. Who can escape the return to dust? Who can wave Time away forever?

Or I can stop obsessing about empty stuff and take up my cross to march towards a death that opens unto life.

And yet, between here and there, is suffering.

I really, really hate suffering. I might tolerate some small suffering for some small reward. I am, after all, rather heavily tattooed. But raise the stakes and make more strange the suffering and more strange the reward, and I’ll pretend I never even heard of the option. The dull ache of a life unfulfilled or the sharp pain of suffering for an Abundant Kingdom?

I’ll take dull ache, thank you.

I know that’s my choice, because it’s the choice I’ve made everyday for as long as I can remember.

In mid-august, I start to choose differently and it scares the merciless shit out of me.

Now, let’s get things straight: this is no heroic shift.

No, these are going to be toddler’s steps. And there’s one thing we know for sure: toddlers stumble.